Are lithium-ion batteries on yachts safe?
Pantaenius UK shares insights from an expert marine industry panel…
The symposium took place in early March at the Solent offices of the leading marine law firm, Shoosmiths and was moderated by Elliot Bishop who leads the firm’s marine litigation group. The panel included Mike Wimbridge - Pantaenius UK Ltd, Richard Selby MIReg - Maritime Aviation, Charlie Mumford - Cayman Islands Shipping Registry and Duncan Duffy - Global Head of Technology, Electrotechnical Systems, Lloyd's Register.
Elliot opened the session noting that it had become evident that as we move towards a Net Zero future a vast number of marine industry discussions revolve around regulations governing the decarbonisation of the maritime sector, the transition from fuel-propelled systems and the subsequent commercial and safety implications. Lithium-ion-powered vessels and toys are increasing their market share year on year, with one recent study forecasting market growth of $100 million today and $1.4 billion by 2030.
He went on to note that in 2023 alone it is anticipated that more electric boats will be sold than previously sold to date, with the market drivers being environmental regulations, advances in technology and the progressive consumer mindset. As such the implications, and realities, of a casualty when lithium-ion is involved can be very significant.
Maritime Aviation outlined that over the last 18 months, the company has been made aware of approximately 20 significant and catastrophic events involving superyachts or large yachts, where the causative factor has been investigated and identified as a lithium-ion battery.
If there has been a considerable increase in the number of toys and vehicles with lithium-ion batteries stowed on board, is this simply a numbers game? If there are more products out there, surely it follows that there will also be more incidents, right?
Charlie Mumford, from the Cayman Islands Shipping Registry, reported that although they have seen exponential growth in the use of toys with lithium-ion batteries across their fleet of 2,200 yachts, there had only been one fire in 2021 and another in 2022 that were directly linked to lithium-ion batteries on board.
He commented: “I think those numbers illustrate where the primary risk is! Our yachts already know fire safety principles because they carry petrol jet skis or petrol rescue boats. They are already familiar with the risks, whereas with entirely private, sometimes unclassed, and un-flagged boats, we have very little control over that. It’s certainly about educating crew members and yacht management companies to ensure that lessons can be practically disseminated through the industry.”
Mike Wimbridge from Pantaenius UK added, “From my perspective, we as an industry are looking to protect owners, and not just necessarily on large boats, but regular boats that we see here on the Solent. For example, we talk about the charging of phones, that carry lithium-ion batteries and, however sophisticated that yacht is, it becomes susceptible to guests buying a charger from the local market rather than using one provided by the manufacturer."
"I'd like to encourage the conversation of providing do’s and don’ts in that scenario. I've been fortunate enough to be working with British Marine on some guidelines, and best practices, and that should be published soon.”
Richard Selby at Maritime Aviation concluded, “Lithium-ion batteries are great technology! It’s just really a matter of common sense, using products that are by the manufacturer’s instructions, depending on the environment that they are in, and making sure the right people are correctly trained to respond accordingly alongside appropriate monitoring and detection. You wouldn't put a candle next to a curtain at night and go to bed. So why would you leave a product on charge overnight or unattended whilst you go out!”
A final assessment came from Duncan, Global Head of Technology at Electrotechnical Systems: “With the care and attention that needs to go into a risk assessment I do believe that we can answer our question as to whether lithium-ion batteries on yachts are safe as – yes, they can be.”
A key takeaway from this panel discussion was effectively not to be afraid of lithium-ion power. When in use, the main factor is to ensure that precautionary methods are in place, just as you would deal with petrol on board. For instance, solid risk assessments, following manufacturing guidelines for storage and use, common sense by turning the power off, ensuring the appropriate people are fully trained as well as correct monitoring and detection systems.
However, there is an urgent need for regulation of all the above points within the private yachting sector to also incorporate flag and coding policies as well as subsequent guidance notes provided for the industry as a whole.
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